St Catharine’s is delighted to celebrate the completion of the Central Spaces major building project, and officially open its elegant and accessible suite of new facilities that will enhance life in College for the benefit of students, staff, Fellows, alumni and visitors. A special event was held yesterday for representatives of the College’s student body, staff departments and Fellowship as well as donors who have given generously to fund this important project.

A special ceremony was presided over by alumnus Sir Ian McKellen (1958, English; Honorary Fellow 1982) who used some pyrotechnic wizardry to conjure a blazing doorway, which he then walked through – once the flames subsided – to mark the opening of these new spaces. In his remarks, he admired how the new spaces blend traditional and modern elements, shared his fond memories from his undergraduate years at St Catharine’s and praised the College's support for its students today.

St Catharine's College Dining HallSir Ian McKellen conjures a pyrotechnic doorway to celebrate the opening at St Catharine's College, Cambridge
(Sir Ian McKellen conjures a pyrotechnic doorway to celebrate the opening (credit: Martin Bond, A Cambridge Diary))

The Central Spaces building project was an extensive renovation that has revitalised the facilities at the heart of the College’s Island site on Trumpington Street. The centrepiece is undoubtedly the new dining hall, kitchens and surrounding areas, which have been completely renovated to an extraordinary standard. The hall has been designed to host up to 180 diners for College activities or external events – enough space for a full year-group with Fellows and other guests.

For the first time, the College has direct, step-free access between its 17th-century buildings and more recent additions: a new central lift and atrium connect the purpose-built gym and music room in the basement to the Hall, Chapel, SCR, OCR and new meeting/dining venue; the Sydney Smith Room. A new Garden Room offers an informal space to meet and work that also serves to link the Hall to the McGrath Centre, Bar and other facilities in Chapel Court.

Sydney Smith Room meeting room at St Catharine's College, CambridgeGarden Room at St Catharine's College, Cambridge

Costing in the region of £16 million, this transformative project has been entirely supported through fundraising. It is a source of great pride for St Catharine’s that it is the second of our recent projects to be wholly funded by alumni, following the example set by the construction of the McGrath Centre almost a decade ago.

Professor Sir Mark Welland, Master of St Catharine’s, commented:

“Having regularly inspected the construction site as building progressed, I cannot overemphasise how incredibly difficult it has been to realise the College’s vision of connecting and modernising such a complex set of rooms, structures and walls. I am enormously grateful to every part of our community for supporting each phase of the Central Spaces project: through generous donations, working alongside our partners to design and deliver the project, and helping us navigate the disruption associated with living and working alongside a construction site.”

St Catharine’s has relied on a number of partners in the design and execution of the Central Spaces project (in order of appointment): Henry Riley (our project managers), Gort Scott (our pre-construction architect), SDC Builders (our main contractor), AMA (our executive architect) and Ralph & Smith (our interior design consultants).